Proponents of the public school system argue that school choice policies divert financial resources from public institutions and therefore harm teachers. While it is true that funds are reallocated, it is not clear that these policies actually make teachers worse off overall. What seems to be clear is that the current public schooling system is a zero-sum game where teachers benefit at the expense of parents and children. Alternatively, school choice policies benefit teachers and the rest of society at the same time.
High-Quality Teachers Benefit
This may seem counterintuitive to people that have continuously heard the message that school choice harms teachers. Obviously, diverting resources to private schools must harm teachers in public schools, right? This is debatable, especially since public school teachers do not face a serious threat of dismissal or decreasing salaries. Moreover, even if this caused a realistic dismissal threat, the high-quality teachers would certainly remain shielded. What is unquestionable, however, is that this diversion of resources benefits teachers in private schools voluntarily chosen by families.
Which group of teachers should benefit more? The ones that forcefully receive resources from the taxpayers, or the ones that produce educational outcomes that are desired by children and parents?
Better Teachers for a Lower Price
Private school choice programs can do much more than divert resources in the short-run. Private schools are free to make decisions in order to incentivize high-quality talent to persist in the labor market for teaching. For example, private schools can promote pay-for-performance programs and improve the distribution of retirement benefits in order to attract motivated talent. Also, private schools do not face the same certification regulations, so they have a larger pool of potential candidates for any given position. Removing strict certification regulations would benefit teachers that would not have otherwise even come into existence. Overall, access to a larger supply of labor will guarantee that schools will be able to attain higher quality teachers at a lower price.
Policies such as these can be made at the school level in the private sector. This is beneficial for teachers because individual schools will need to compete for a scarce resource: high-quality teachers. The schools that have the best working conditions for teachers will attract exceptional teachers; the schools that do not provide desirable conditions for employees will fail to survive in a competitive market. Just imagine how much better working conditions for teachers could be in a system of enhanced private school choice! Furthermore, a competitive system would reward the teachers that are improving educational outcomes for children. Families will obviously desire the high-quality teachers. This demand for effective teachers will support a high salary for those teachers and motivate lower-performing teachers to improve.
If we really aim to benefit effective teachers and the rest of society, we should promote private school choice policies such as vouchers and education savings accounts. Doing so would compensate existing teachers for a job well done and even reward motivated people that would not have otherwise entered the teaching profession.
This piece was republished from the Foundation for Economic Education.